Early Caribbean Slave Narratives
Taylor, Catherine Cole
West India Society
Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Historical Society of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Memoir of the Life of Florence Hall c.1810: A Scholarly Introduction
By: Nicole Aljoe, PhD.
“The Memoir of Florence Hall” tells the story of Florence Hall, whose African name was Akeiso, as she was captured in Africa and then sold into enslavement in Jamaica. The text is a four-page handwritten document that is presented as being told from a first-person perspective. The text is neither signed nor dated, but is estimated to be from around 1810. Although the narrator begins by claiming she doesn’t remember life in Africa, the narrative provides a few interesting details about her life in Africa, her capture and enslavement, her eventual journey to the Americas, and her experience of slavery in the Caribbean.
In addition to providing a female view of life in Africa— Hall recalls her youth, playing in the fields, being kidnapped and then taken to the coast by “enemies of her people,” the result of inter-tribal warfare, most likely exacerbated by the slave trade—she also describes, albeit obliquely, her experience of the Middle Passage. Interestingly, there are no comments about rapes of female slaves on the ships, instead, the narrative focuses on the bad and sparing amounts of food. Generally speaking, the narrative has a compelling, fleeting quality in terms of its tone. Though Hall certainly seems reluctant to revisit her memories, they are nonetheless vividly detailed. This is most apparent in towards the end of her narrative where she seems to describe the psychological torture of the experience of enslavement.
The narrative is one of the few surviving handwritten narratives. It was written in a copybook and there are several hand-drawn images on the third and fourth pages, as well as a watermark or initials on the fourth. There are also numbers and computational figures listed on the last two pages. Throughout the narrative there are several crossings out and changing of words. If it is authentic, the text provides an example of what the original handwritten narratives might have looked like. It also suggests the extent to which the genre of the slave narrative had become commonplace.
In terms of its publication history, the narrative is not unknown amongst scholars of the history of Caribbean slavery and early Caribbean literature. Douglas Hall lists the narrative in his Sources for West Indian Studies. Maureen Warner-Lewis mentions it in her book on the Moravian narrative of Archibald Monteith. Evelyn O’Callaghan references it in a footnote in her book about early White West Indian female writers. A reference to the narrative shows up in an Education encyclopedia entry on slavery and early childhood. Finally, anthropologist Jerome Handler also cites the narrative as providing evidence of the material culture of early Caribbean slaves, by documenting the fact that slave traders often took away objects of distinction and value from captured slaves. Indeed, because the narrative is undated and unsigned, historians have not been able to ascertain exactly when the narrative was written (the Historical Society has it dated ca. 1820) and by whom (it could have been the plantation owner Johnston, his daughter, Mary, or someone else) or whether there was even a historical individual with this name. Examinations of the records of Johnston’s plantations in Jamaica show several slaves by the name of ‘Florence’ and ‘Florence Hall.’
Handler, Jerome. “The Middle Passage and Material Culture of Captive Africans.” Slavery and Abolition, vol. 30, 2009, pp. 1-26.
O’Callaghan, Evelyn. Women Writing the West Indies: 1804-1939: A Hot Place Belonging to Us. Routledge, 2003.
Warner-Lewis, Maureen. Archibald Monteath: Igbo, Jamaican, Moravian. University of West Indies Press, 2007.
How to cite this scholarly introduction:
Aljoe, Nicole N. “Memoir of the Life of Florence Hall (c.1810): A Scholarly Introduction." The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service, 2016.